Thursday's NBA playoffs: Bucks bounce back to beat Nets 104-89 and force Game 7

Associated Press

Milwaukee — Khris Middleton scored 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and the Milwaukee Bucks never trailed in a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night to force a decisive seventh game in their second-round playoff series.

Game 7 will be Saturday night in Brooklyn. The home team has won each of the first six games in this series.

“Both teams, it's win or go home,” Middleton said. “That's what Game 7's all about. That's what players love about it. I'm sure the fans love it, too."

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden, right, is guarded by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, during the first half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee never trailed and broke the game open by going on a 14-0 run that started with less than 8 ½ minutes left.

Middleton answered every Brooklyn comeback attempt and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals to go along with the highest scoring total of his playoff career.

“He did a little bit of everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Antetokounmpo had 17 rebounds.

The Bucks shot just 7 of 33 from 3-point range but made up for it by outscoring the Nets 26-4 in fast-break points.

“We definitely were out of sync," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "We didn’t play the way we wanted to play offensively. We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight. We have a Game 7 on our home floor.”

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Milwaukee bounced back two nights after blowing a 17-point lead in a 114-108 Game 5 loss at Brooklyn that featured an epic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist performance from Kevin Durant.

Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds Thursday. James Harden added 16 points but still looked as though he was at far less than full strength in his second game since returning from a hamstring injury.

Harden left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and returned in Game 5 but shot 1 of 10 and scored just five points.

The Bucks owned a 14-point lead early in the second half before Durant again sparked a third-quarter comeback, scoring 10 straight Nets points during one stretch.

Brooklyn cut Milwaukee’s lead to 72-67 with 1:27 left in the third when Harden made two free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point shot. Middleton restored Milwaukee’s double-digit advantage by scoring the last six points of the third quarter, including a putback at the buzzer.

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Milwaukee extended the lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter, but Brooklyn stormed back again with 10 straight points, as Joe Harris’ 3-pointer made it 82-77 with 8:41 left. Middleton again responded, drawing a foul on Harris while shooting a 3-pointer and making all three free throws.

Those free throws started a 14-0 run that included seven points from Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP capped the spurt by converting an offensive rebound into a dunk with 6:24 left.

More NBA playoffs

► Clippers' Leonard listed as out for Friday's Game 6 vs. Utah

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is officially out Friday night for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz, but coach Tyronn Lue did not have any update on if it will be longer.

Leonard sprained his right knee Monday night in a Game 4 win. He traveled with the Clippers to Salt Lake City, Lue said, then returned to Los Angeles for further testing. A sprain, by definition, is a ligament injury, but the Clippers have not said which of the four knee ligaments he injured.

Despite missing Leonard, LA took a 3-2 series lead on Wednesday night with a 119-111 victory behind 37 points from Paul George. The Clippers are 12-9 without their All-Star forward this season, including 1-0 in the playoffs.

Leonard — a two-time NBA Finals MVP — is averaging 30.4 points in the playoffs.

The Clippers will be looking to close out the series and advance to the conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s 51-year history with a win. The Jazz need a victory on Friday to send it back to Salt Lake City for Game 7 on Sunday. The winner faces the Phoenix Suns.

LA was up 3-1 in last year’s series against the Denver Nuggets but were eliminated with three straight losses. Lue said the focus remains on winning Friday night and not dwelling on history.

“I know, like you said, the first time ever getting to the Western Conference finals, of course guys are thinking about that, but I’m focused and my job is just to make sure we’re focused on tomorrow night and that’s it and try to take care of business,” Lue said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game. Their backs are against the wall now, so they’re going to come out and throw punches and do everything they can to try to win that game.”

Friday’s game will also be the first time in 15 months the Clippers can play in front of full capacity at Staples Center after California eased some of its COVID-19 safety measures on Tuesday. LA was allowed to only play to half capacity during its first six home playoff games.